The First Amendment protects most forms of speech in Pennsylvania from government censorship or punishment. The right to publicly state one's opinion without fear of criminal charges is widely seen as a necessary cornerstone of a democratic society. However, statutes and case law over the more than 200 years since the Bill of Rights was ratified have established some exceptions to this right.
Back on Dec. 17, we discussed the arrest of a 21-year-old Pittsburgh man in connection with an online video in which two men appear to threaten police officers. The man was accused of being one of the people in the video and was facing possible federal charges, perhaps including terrorism charges. In an update to that story, an 18-year-old man was arrested on Jan. 8, apparently on suspicion of being the other performer in the video, which the older man's defense attorney said contained free speech protected by the First Amendment.
People in Pittsburgh who visit the online video site YouTube have probably watched many videos of everyday people giving their point of view on a topic. The subjects may range from politics to commenting on sports or personal matters. Perhaps readers have uploaded such a video themselves.
The federal judge presiding over the trial of seven member of a Michigan militia who were accused by prosecutors of plotting a rebellion against the government dismissed the charges on March 27 for lack of evidence. In granting the defendants' motion to dismiss, the judge said that secret recordings of their conversations were merely evidence of protected speech, not a criminal conspiracy.
A pair of cases out of Pennsylvania that dealt with whether schools have the power to punish students for Internet speech they make while at home were brought to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal, but the high court declined to hear the cases. Attorneys for one of the punished students called the decision a de facto victory for those who believe schools' power over student's Constitutional rights do not extend past the schoolhouse door.